Tuesday, November 25, 2008

axe man

In choosing chief strategist, Obama chooses politics as usual
David Axelrod, the Chicago political consultant behind Barack Obama's message of change, is coming to the White House to help "tell the American people our story," as he put it in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.
Peter S. Canellos
WASHINGTON - David Axelrod, the Chicago political consultant behind Barack Obama's message of change, is coming to the White House to help "tell the American people our story," as he put it in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.
From his new perch as senior adviser to the president, he hopes to continue the tale of how Obama changed the way America practices politics. But it's now obvious that there's one part of George W. Bush's political legacy that Obama and Axelrod aren't eager to change: the very dubious notion of having the president's campaign strategist rubbing elbows with all the policy wonks in the West Wing.
Bush's decision to bring Karl Rove, his Texas-based strategist and the architect of his rally-the-conservative-base approach to politics, to the White House was controversial back in 2001. Even Bill Clinton, whose White House was viewed as overly political by many people, didn't have his chief strategist ensconced in an office down the hall.
And Rove, of course, proved to be a magnet for trouble. There was, for instance, the federal investigation into whether Rove helped expose the identity of a CIA agent in an attempt to discredit her husband. Rove was never charged, but he did return to the grand jury repeatedly to correct his testimony.
But that was a minor political kerfuffle compared with the suggestion that Rove pushed for an early vote to authorize war in Iraq to take advantage of the 2002 midterm elections, when many Democrats would be reluctant to vote against the president on a pressing matter of national security and then have to face the voters a few weeks later.
Then, when Bush was mulling whether to give the United Nations arms inspectors in Iraq more time to finish their job, Rove reportedly urged Bush to start the war as soon as possible to get it over before the 2004 reelection campaign. (If that was his thinking, he was off by at least six years.) It's important to note that these are merely allegations made in various books about the Bush administration; Rove is now working on his own memoirs, in which he will presumably correct the record. And it's also worth noting that Rove could just as easily have made those recommendations to Bush from an office in Austin as from the White House.
But there's an extra degree of influence that comes from working in the White House; that's why political strategists are willing to give up lucrative consulting work to set up shop in the West Wing.
Among the president's staff, influence is determined by how much face time each aide gets with the chief executive. An ordinary staff member on the National Security Council might have to wait weeks to get in to see the president. But the president's chief political strategist, who traveled with the candidate for years on end and spoke to him constantly, arrives at the White House with more channels of access than anybody outside the president's family.
Other aides, from Cabinet secretaries on down, can only imagine what the strategist is telling the president about them; many will seek the strategist's favor, believing him to be the president's eyes and ears, and will listen intently whenever the strategist makes a recommendation.
So Rove's advice on Iraq may have carried more weight with the people around Bush than with the president himself. And Rove's presence as a virtual gatekeeper to the Oval Office almost certainly contributed to a top-down culture in which few, if any, advisers felt free to deliver bad news or offer competing views to the president.
Axelrod, of course, is not Rove, and Obama is not Bush. A former newsman, Axelrod is reputed to be an idealist more concerned with preserving Obama's image than with achieving political victories or influencing policy. His fame has come mostly from helping black candidates attract the votes of white people. He views himself as a storyteller, and no lover of hard-ball political tactics.
Still, as Axelrod probably knows better than anyone, most Americans think that politics already influences policy to too great an extent. Removing politics from the nation's decision-making process was a key talking point of the Obama campaign. It's part of the "story" that Axelrod wants to tell.
But it's curious that Obama feels the need to have a political consultant on his staff to reassure Americans that decisions aren't being based on political concerns.
Peter S. Canellos is the Globe's Washington bureau chief. National Perspective is his weekly analysis of events in the capital and beyond. He can be reached at canellos@globe.com
© Copyright

Monday, November 24, 2008


Classic Monk
Classical Jazz at Lincoln Center
The jazziest scene at the second night of Jazz at Lincoln Center's Monk Festival was in the fifth floor atrium, during intermission of simultaneous concerts by pianist Danilo Perez's trio (reprising his cd Panamonk, in the Allen Room) and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra performing members' arrangements of Monk's music in big band settings led by Wynton Marsalis, with featured pianist Marcus Roberts (in more formal Rose Hall).
Between sets all-age, all-hipster-style attendees mingled in the buzzy, high ceilinged room. Especially fashionable young couples gazed out upon the lights of Columbus Circle, Central Park and 59th Street and sometimes at each other. Films of Monk were projected on a large screen while a excitedly engaged, unannounced piano trio, lit but not raised off the floor, jammed on Monk themes. Arrestingly artful album covers of Monk's lps were displayed on stands politely guarded by low ropes; high end drinks and snacks were sold at kiosks around which the multi-generational crowd surged. CDs and Monk paraphernalia were available at one table, sponsorship info for J@LC at another, and brewer Doug Moody was pouring free samples of his tasty Brother Thelonious Belgian-style abbey ale at a third. The mood was lively as a village fair, in perhaps unfair contrast to the seriousness of intent palpable at the LCJO's concert, from which I'd come.
Not that there's anything wrong with taking the exacting, enduring music of Thelonious Monk seriously. Few American composers' ouevre pay off close listening so well by demonstrating the fundimental complexities, puzzling paradoxes, potential alternatives and profound implications arising from jazz-related song. His songs are memorable, hummable, funny ha-ha and funny peculiar. Like Kafka or Escher or Bach, for that matter, his art has a logic of its own, though it is clearly put forth and immediately accessible.
The LCJO did it's characteristically note-perfect rendering of quite difficult charts that mostly embellished several of Monk's less-often played melodies -- "Crespuscule with Nellie," "Epistrophy," "Ugly Beauty," "Hackensack," "Four In One," "Pannonica," "Criss-Cross" and "Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues Are," "Bye-ya," "We See," "Skippy," "Light Blue," "Evidence" and "Blue Monk," avoiding familiarities such as "Well You Needn't," "Straight No Chaser," "Round Midnight," "Off Minor" or "Rhythm-n-ing." The show was sonorously scripted by historian Geoffrey Ward, with actor Courtney B. Vance delivering the biographical data; Wynton contributed introductory ad libs and T.S. Monk told an old family anecdote about how his dad earned his piano lessons. Marcus Roberts, winner of the first annual Monk instrumental Competition sponsored by the Monk Foundation, is an apposite keyboardist for such a program by virtue of his temperament as well as his technique; he breaks into oom-pah bass patterns, elicits unexpectedly delicate touches from up-high registers, rings percussive repetitions of insistent chords -- does anything except offer predictably polished effusions.
Yet Roberts did not dominate the evening,because this concert wasn't meant to be a piano showcase nor a blowing date, although there were some piquant solos. It was much more consciously a repertory presentation, and therein lies the challenge Jazz at Lincoln Center continues to set for itself.
How does the respectful preservation of enduring work jibe with the jazz imperative to make it new, keep it fresh, deliver excitement? Here, arranger-soloists including bassist Carlos Henriquez, drummer Ali Jackson, reedists Walter Blandings, Sherman Irby, Ted Nash and Victor Goines, trombonist Chris Crenshaw and trumpeters Marcus Printup and Wynton Marsalis himself focused on not smothering but rather highlighting the quirky spareness of Monk's original small band in-the-moment versions, employed everything from picollos to congas and clavé beats, sweepingly harmonized Benny Carteresque sax section blends and extreme polyphony. What did they expect from all this? Was their intent to update the material, invest and interest themselves in it, or just show off? They evoked dreamy airs, bumptious rhythms, obliquely expansive references and mysterious conundrums -- like a a chamber orchestra tackling the reflective intricacies of a revered modernist, not much like a jazz gang attacking tried and true tunes to shake up the full house.
Of course, this is the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, with a mission to elevate the art of jazz, not to sentimentalize or indulge the stereotype of its low-born if honest roots. Such concerts might seem perfect for an elite audience, designed for aficionados as informed as me, who are hyper-aware of and pre-ordained to be interested in signficiant albeit subtle variations on works we love and have heard many times. Rigorous extrapolation of possibilities Monk alludes to, which can only be realized by larger, more organized forces than the quartets he typically worked with, will inevitably de-emphasize interactive spontaneity, however much 16 musicians may try to make every note count (as Monk said essential to his method). The question is: must such repertory presention downplay the bold power of Monk's -- or Mingus', Coltrane's, Ellington's, Morton's, Miles'? -- music. The Jazz at Lincoln Center answer has always been, "No!" So then why do we feel as exhausted as elated leaving a Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra Concert? Are we just getting old?
There's that, but not only that. For all this concert's assertions that Monk's music is here and now for all to enjoy, there was something about the intricate frameworks in which this music was delivered that required listeners to make an effort to unpack it. Though I know Wynton Marsalis and all the aces on the bandstand want to swing hard and have fun, there is still something, maybe built in, only occasionally escapable, that makes these big, impressive events problematic for the less-than-devoted-yet-eager-to-be-enveloped fan.
Were 14 densely detailed, multi-faceted arrangements too many to absorb? Should concerts be held in barns rather than well-appointed confines like "the house that swing built," as Wynton calls his estimable institution? Are the ongoing attempts to justify jazz as America's classical music doomed to leech the juice from jazz? Or is it just jaded critics, grouchy and prejudiced, who romanticize and indulge stereotypes of jazz's low-born but honest roots as the real thing, and can't accept that more upright presentations can be just as expressive and thrilling, as quickly convened, off-hand sets in crowded, rowdy clubs?
Did anyone else hear the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra play Monk -- and think, "Gee, the party is here in the lobby among the crush of folks chatting, touching, talking and listening too, more than it is when we're in our seats"? Did you react/have you reacted similarly or differently to comparable concerts? As ever, comments on this question, which has troubled me a while, will be welcomed. I'm sure I've heard performances, even some by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (recalling a memorable battle of the bands with Jon Faddis' sadly disenfranchised Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra), that delivered the longed-for visceral experience. What does it take to make classic jazz live, to keep classic jazz alive?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

kulik images impounded as 'porn' at fiac

Russian gallery directors handcuffed by police,
but case dropped
By Georgina Adam From Art Market
PARIS. French police seized a number of works by the Ukrainian performance artist Oleg Kulik on the stand of Moscow’s XL gallery during Fiac (Foire international d’art contemporain), the leading contemporary art fair, held in the Grand Palais, Paris, on 23-26 October. The police were acting on a complaint of pornography brought by the French customs against photographs from the 1990s depicting Kulik performances, sometimes naked and sometimes simulating sexual acts with animals. Kulik is well known for his performances as a dog, notably I Bite America and America Bites Me in 1997 at Deitch Projects in New York, when he spent two weeks living in a heavily secured dog cage in the gallery. While it is not illegal in France to show “zoophilia” (sex with animals), article 227-4 of the penal code states that it is illegal to show “violent or pornographic images…which could be seen by minors”. The French customs had seen the Kulik images on their arrival in France and informed the public prosecutor.“The police didn’t know which ones to take, so finally they took all the ones showing Kulik naked,” XL gallery’s director Sergei Khripun told the French newspaper Le Monde. He and co-director Elena Selina were taken to the local police station and handcuffed to a bench before being released a few hours later. Fiac’s director Martin Bethenod stayed with them and served as interpreter. Mr Khripun and Ms Selina have now returned to Russia. “There is no case against them and they are not being investigated,” Mr Bethenod told The Art Newspaper. The photo-graphs in question, some of which had already been sold, have now been given for safekeeping to Fiac. “I have them under lock and key and am awaiting the magistrate’s decision as to what to do with them,” said Mr Bethenod.
©2008 The Art NewspaperClose

Monday, November 17, 2008

obama should follow carter's lead...

bring jazz back to the white house
By Howard Reich
November 16, 2008

If President-elect Barack Obama wants to make a bold cultural statement—one that resonates deeply with his autobiography and with the legacy of his adopted hometown, Chicago—there's a compelling way to do it: Teach the White House to swing (again).That's what President Jimmy Carter did in spring 1978, casting the unique brilliance of a presidential spotlight on a distinctly American art form. Carter convened a galaxy of jazz luminaries at the White House, to spectacular effect. Eubie Blake (at 95), Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Teddy Wilson, Max Roach, Louie Bellson and other giants performed jubilantly on the White House South Lawn, basking in the kind of official recognition jazz richly deserves but rarely receives. Anyone who follows jazz never will forget the sight of a wheelchair-bound Charles Mingus, a musical icon then and now, weeping openly as President Carter praised him at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave."That was the best jazz concert the White House has ever seen," Carter told Time magazine last year, and he could be believed because he wasn't running for anything and already had his Nobel Prize.Even if Carter were looking for votes, he surely had sewn up the global jazz constituency that sweltering June night, when he vocalized with the great Gillespie. The tune? What else? Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts," the ideal jazz anthem for a former peanut farmer. After the last riffs, Gillespie leaned toward Carter and said, "Mr. President, I have one question. Could you take it on the road?"Carter laughed and, without missing a syncopated beat, responded, "After tonight I may have to!"But Carter struck a more meaningful note at the end of the evening, when he told the illustrious musicians, "What you have given America is as important as the White House and the Capitol building." It was music to any jazz lover's ears.President Bill Clinton picked up on the theme, inviting jazz virtuosos back to the South Lawn 15 years to the day after Carter's soiree. This time, icons such as Joe Williams, Dorothy Donegan and Illinois Jacquet shared the spotlight with a new wave of emerging masters: Wynton Marsalis, Jon Faddis and Joshua Redman among them. Once again, the musicians were galvanized by the experience. Pianist Donegan, a native Chicagoan who did not grow up in luxury, swore she would title her memoirs, "From the Out House to the White House."And once again, a sitting president sang the praises of jazz."It's especially important that we should be together here in America's house to celebrate that most American of all forms of musical expression, jazz," Clinton told the crowd. "Jazz is really America's classical music. Like the country itself, and especially like the people who created it, jazz is a music born of struggle but played in celebration."There haven't been any White House nights quite like that in the last eight years, which means President-elect Obama—who has said he's partial to John Coltrane and Frank Sinatra—finally could heat up the place again. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine a president better suited to re-igniting jazz at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and not because he's African-American.More specifically, Obama's mixed-race heritage reflects the genome of jazz, which first blossomed when multiple cultures and classes converged in New Orleans at the turn of the previous century. No other American metropolis brought largely self-taught black musical geniuses (such as Louis Armstrong) and their formally trained Creole counterparts (such as Jelly Roll Morton) into such proximity. In effect, the black oral tradition merged with more formalized European methods and instrumentation; the rhythms of West Africa linked up with the harmonies of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. A riotous new sound shook New Orleans, then Chicago, then the world. Here was a buoyantly improvised music as freewheeling as America itself, and as democratic too. For in jazz, each musician stands up and has his (or her) say in solos, before rejoining the rest of the band toward the common good.No city (New Orleans included) has given more to jazz than Chicago, the place where Armstrong, Morton and generations thereafter have launched their international careers. If Obama hopes to bring the sound of Chicago and the spirit of cooperation to Washington, he could start with jazz—and not simply by holding another grand concert on the South Lawn (though that would be fine).Better still, Obama could insist that the next chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts builds on the achievements of outgoing Dana Gioia, who expanded the Jazz Masters program with national tours, educational initiatives and radio programming.Further, Obama could ensure that jazz greats, including Chicago's, bow at the White House when heads-of-state come to call. Let them hear what American musical ingenuity sounds like.Perhaps Obama even could persuade the Kennedy Center Honors to pay belated attention to America's jazz creators. Incredibly, none has won since Benny Carter, in 1996 (unless you count classic-pop vocalist Tony Bennett, in 2005). Any recognition for jazz from an Obama administration would have a galvanizing effect on the art form while expressing, in music, Obama's message of hope and unity. At a time when credit is tight and budgets are tighter, why not loosen things up a bit—with jazz?hreich@tribune.com
Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

obama win triggers run on guns

Buyers said to fear
crackdown on their rights, civil unrest
By Howard Witt
Tribune correspondent
November 12, HOUSTON — A week after the election of Barack Obama, gun buyers across the country are voting with their feet, flocking to gun stores to stock up on assault rifles, handguns and ammunition.Some say they are worried that the incoming Obama administration will attempt to reimpose the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. Others fear the loss of their right to own handguns. A few say they are preparing to protect themselves in the event of a race war.But whatever the reason, gun dealers in red and blue states alike say they've never seen anything like the run on weaponry they've been experiencing since Election Day— surpassing even the panic buying in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."People are terrified of losing their right to protect themselves," said DeWayne Irwin, owner of Cheaper Than Dirt, a large gun store in Ft. Worth. "The volume is 10 times what we ever expected. It started with assault rifles, but at this point people are buying ammunition, high-capacity magazines, Glocks—it's all flying off the shelf. With the economy the way it is, people are worried about instability. They are scared of civil unrest."There are no nationwide figures on gun sales available yet to document a post-election trend, and the number of pre-purchase background checks conducted by the FBI—a major barometer of national gun sales—actually rose more slowly through Oct. 31 of this year than during comparable periods in 2007 and 2006.But anecdotal reports from around the nation suggest the sudden surge of November gun-buying is far surpassing the normal hunting-season spike that often occurs this time of year.At the Memorial Shooting Center in Houston, which shares a building with a church, managers said they sold out of assault weapons a day after the election and are now adding new orders, at more than $1,000 each, to a monthlong waiting list. In Colorado, state authorities said they set a record for background checks on gun purchasers on the Saturday before the election—and the requests have been growing ever since.And in Obama's home state of Illinois, business at gun stores is brisk."We've had a lot of people concerned because our president-elect is extremely anti-gun and so is his running mate," said Jerry Bricco, owner of 1st Class Firearms in north suburban Zion. "They're afraid of future gun bans and what you will be allowed to get."Not every gun enthusiast is so worried. Mark Greene, a hunter and member of Gun Owners for Obama who led a grass-roots campaign for the Democrat in Tarrant County, Texas, said he regarded fears of a looming ban on assault weapons as unfounded."People are being pretty reactionary," Greene said. "There's a small contingent of folks in and out of the gun-owning community concerned that Obama's election is such a revolutionary change that it could portend mayhem. I think it's hysteria."Obama's record on gun rights is conflicting enough to give ammunition to either side.His campaign Web site said he "respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms" and promised that he would "protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport and use guns."Seeking to reassure gun owners, Obama told a campaign audience in Ohio in October: "I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won't take your handgun away."But Obama also has said he favors "common sense" gun laws, and as an Illinois state legislator he voted to support a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and tighter restrictions on all firearms. He has said in the past that he opposes allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons.And Obama's controversial comment last April that some rural Americans "cling to guns or religion" in difficult times suggested to many gun owners that he was fundamentally hostile toward them.The sum of those positions prompted the National Rifle Association to warn its members during the campaign that Obama "would be the most anti-gun president in American history."Obama "says he's in favor of common-sense gun laws," Irwin said. "Well, what people up north think is common sense is something different from us down here in Texas. The criminals have all this illegal stuff. I don't want to fight them with a handgun if I can get an AK. I'm entitled to that. I should be able to defend my home."One expert sees a darker motive driving some post-election gun purchasers."Why are white people buying assault weapons?" said Ben Agger, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Arlington who wrote a book about the Virginia Tech slayings. "I almost hate to say it, but there is a deep-seated fear of the armed black man, because Obama now commands the military and other instruments of the justice system. They are afraid Obama will exact retribution for the very deep-seated legacy of slavery."Tribune reporter James Kimberly contributed to this report from Chicago.

walking the walk

Defining Strolls?
jeffery mcnary

What does a president look like, a friend asks. It's a good question, especially as my wise ArtsJournal colleague Apollinaire Sherr has already drawn attention to Obama's 'loping physical grace', adding:
'I've spent so much of my life reflecting on the meaning of movement, I can't help feeling that our President-Elect's liquid ease bodes well: it's such a rare quality among politicians, who usually seem all bungled up in their bodies, though Bill Clinton had some of that expansiveness - except more in the flesh, which turned out to spell trouble, yes it did)...'
British prime minister Gordon Brown, shifting uncomfortably inside his skin as if it scratches him, is absolutely a 'bungled up' figure. But how do we want a president - any political leader - to move? Absolute monarchs don't need to move at all - we, their cowed and snotty subjects, eddy around their monumental stillness. If they do move, we're in trouble - Elizabeth I preparing to box someone's ears, or Louis XIV disrupting the sclerotic control of Versailles. In contrast, some of the best-loved political leaders have had a homely relationship to their own body: bustling Lloyd George, Churchill's stumpy teddy bear, the astoundingly unaffected Mandela.
Authoritarians need to try harder, which is why they teeter on the edge of ridicule. Buffed-up Putin and cosmetically enhanced Berlusconi are desperate for us to smell the testosterone. I'd love to know whether Dubya adopted his cowboy swagger early, or if it developed as he began his political career, determined, as Oliver Stone's new movie has it, to 'out-Texas Texas.' Bush junior's walk, rounding at the hip, was a gift to caricaturists, careening down the Darwinian scale from good-ol' boy to poorly-briefed chimp.
Without getting carried away, Obama is already developing into his own icon. He has the 'liquid ease' that Apollinaire observes, but also the gift of stillness, a promise of calm reflection rather than bellicose over-reaction. Or maybe I'm hoping too much. Only 76 days to go before we find out...
How do we want a leader to move? Does physical assurance suggest grace or resolute image control? And what else have you spotted about Obama's movement?

I hold Obama's walk is a standard southside Chicago, 'ain't i bad' step. Jesse Jackson's move can be found similar. But the best version can be found near the end of 'Godfather I', by Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) as he glides away following informing his brother-in-law that he's got to "answer for Santino". He's the don then. He's 'the man'.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

naw, really?

Report: FBI Kept Tabs on
'Admitted Leftist' Norman Mailer
by Matt Haber
The Washington Post's Joe Stephens has a story today about the FBI's 15 year-long surveillance of Norman Mailer, which began in 1962 after Mr. Mailer wrote an article about Jacqueline Kennedy for Esquire.
According to Mr. Stephens:
FBI agents closely tracked the grand and mundane aspects of the acclaimed novelist's life, according to previously confidential government files. Agents questioned his friends, scoured his passport file, thumbed through his best-selling books and circulated his photo among informants. They kept records on his appearances at writers conferences, talk shows and peace rallies. They noted the volume of envelopes in his mailbox and jotted down who received his Christmas cards. They posed as his friend, chatted with his They posed as his friend, chatted with his father and more than once knocked on his door disguised as deliverymen.
What did they learn? Apparently Mr. Mailer was an "admitted leftist" (you don't say?); he'd "been critical of the FBI in public appearances" (horrors!); and Mr. Mailer's Miami and the Siege of Chicago was "is written in his usual obscene and bitter style" (put that on your book jacket).
While lacking a G-man's bureaucratic economy, Wilfrid Sheed in The New York Times on December 8, 1968 didn't love Miami either, writing that Mr. Mailer's "method is simply to stuff as much of America into his ego as will fit and then to examine the ego closely."
Earlier this week, it was reported that the FBI also kept tabs on David Halberstamoted the volume of envelopes in his mailbox and jotted down who received his Christmas cards.

Monday, November 10, 2008

still crazy after all these years, yes?

David Rosenthal at Simon & Schuster announced today that he will be publishing a biography of Norman Mailer written by the late author's literary executor and longtime friend Michael Lennon. The book was sold at auction by Boston-based lawyer Ike Williams, who recently sold the memoirs of Mr. Mailer's widow, Norris Church, to Mr. Mailer's old editor at Random House. There were reportedly seven houses interested, with several offering advances worth more than half a million dollars.
Random House, Mr. Mailer's publisher starting in 1984, was interested in the book but was not willing to pay as much for it as Simon & Schuster. David Ebershoff, who edited Mailer's last few books, declined to comment.
Mr. Lennon will have access to a trove of letters that Mr. Mailer wrote over the course of his life, and has secured the full cooperation of the Mailer estate. He is quoted in a press release as saying, "I have been collecting material for this biography almost from the beginning of our relationship. Beginning in 2003, Norman did a series of in-depth interviews with me on his life and work with the clear sense that the historical record had to be preserved. These interviews, along with others with his widow Norris and other family and friends will be essential to my effort."

Aime Cesaire


Martinican politician, intellectual
and poet who was a founding father
of the négritude movement

James Ferguson
Aimé Césaire, the Martinican intellectual and politician who has died aged 94, left his mark in two separate, seemingly contradictory, fields. As a poet, dramatist and essayist, he coined the term "négritude" to define the revolutionary black aesthetic that rallied French-speaking intellectuals in the Caribbean and Africa in the 1930s. His Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (Return to My Native Land), first published in 1939, is considered the undisputed masterpiece of négritude and a poetic milestone of militant anti-colonialism and metaphorical inventiveness.
At the same time, Césaire was a leading architect of departmentalisation, the process that transformed four French colonies - Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guyane (French Guiana) and Réunion - into fully fledged departments of France. While Césaire the poet inveighed against the cultural arrogance of Europe and celebrated a mythic African identity, Césaire the politician tied the mostly African-descended people of Martinique to the assimilationist structure of the French republic.
Césaire was born at Basse-Pointe, a small town on Martinique's north coast. Although in his Cahier he evoked his childhood as poverty-stricken and squalid, his family was part of the island's small, black middle class, with his father employed as a tax inspector. The family moved to the capital, Fort-de-France, where Césaire went to the Lycée Schoelcher. He was a prize-winning student, easily adapting to the elitist French education system which was entirely alien to the great majority of Creole-speaking rural Martinicans. In 1931 he won a place at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. Four years later, he was admitted to the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, where he studied literature and philosophy.
Amid the ideological and cultural ferment of 1930s Paris, Césaire discovered a wide range of influences. In the company of African students such as Léopold Senghor (later president of Senegal), he familiarised himself with African culture and the continent's anti-colonialist movement.
He became interested in Marxism (although he was never an orthodox Marxist), read Harlem renaissance writers such as Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, and immersed himself in the various ephemeral journals and movements which proliferated during the inter-war years. In one such journal, L'Étudiant noir, he wrote an article attacking the cultural assimilation of blacks and counterposing négritude as a positive revaluation of African aesthetic values. Yet while Césaire was championing what he saw as a primitivist antidote to stultifying western rationalism, he was also on the treadmill of France's most elite academic institution, studying the classics of the official culture.
After eight years in Paris, Césaire returned to Martinique in August 1939, married to Suzanne Roussi, a fellow Martinican student and enthusiastic exponent of négritude. That same month, the first version of the Cahier appeared in an obscure Parisian journal, Volontés, eliciting no reaction whatsoever. For five years Césaire taught at the Lycée Schoelcher, inspiring a generation of students, among them the revolutionary psychiatrist and writer Frantz Fanon. He also edited a literary review, Tropiques, which popularised négritude themes of African culture and anti-colonialism among the island's intellectuals.
When André Breton, the high priest of the French surrealist movement, visited Martinique in 1941, he was impressed by Césaire's stature and poetry. According to Breton's own recollection, he found a copy of the Cahier in a Fort-de-France haberdashery, recognised it as a work of genius and relaunched the poet's career. In surrealism, moreover, Césaire found an aesthetic of irrationalism which coincided neatly with the anti-Cartesian precepts of négritude.
The war years were particularly harsh for Martinique, which was blockaded by the US navy in 1942-43, its white colonial rulers having sided with Pétain's Vichy regime. The enforced presence of thousands of French sailors encircled by a US fleet doubtless reinforced Césaire's hatred of racism. The emergence of the French Communist party (PCF) as the leading anti-Vichy force was another important development, and by 1942 Césaire was a member. In 1944, he escaped the claustrophobia of Fort-de-France and went on a lecture tour to Haiti. His exposure to the nation which had thrown off French colonial rule through revolution was a dramatic vindication of his négritude and reputedly cured his stammer. The heroic figures of Toussaint L'Ouverture and King Henri Christophe symbolised impoverished Haiti's grandeur and were later to feature prominently in Césaire's writing. He returned to a Martinique in political turmoil, where the PCF was capitalising on long pent-up aspirations for change in the colonial system. In rapid succession, in 1945, Césaire was elected mayor of Fort-de-France and a representative to the French constituent assembly, both on a PCF ticket. He was 32 years old; he held the mayoral office, with a brief interruption, for the next 56 years and, having been elected as deputy for Martinique to the national assembly in Paris in 1946, remained in post until 1993.
With the French colonies stagnating after decades of neglect and the privations of the war, Césaire and his colleagues on the left, both in Paris and the Caribbean, favoured political integration over independence, arguing that a "rational dependence" on France would quickly raise living standards through massive subsidies. The PCF-sponsored legislation creating the union was supported in a 1946 referendum, and Martinique and the other colonies became départements d'outre mer (Doms) or overseas departments of France, theoretically on a constitutional par with any French department.
But the rapid improvements anticipated by Césaire were slow to materialise. A highly centralised system of government from Paris gave too much power to a prefect; the subsidies from France were inadequate to rebuild the run-down island infrastructure. In 1958, Césaire voted in support of President de Gaulle's constitutional reforms which created the fifth republic and replaced the union with the "communauté française". These gave more political autonomy to the doms and also allowed Césaire to elaborate a political position which he held more or less consistently for the rest of his career: increased autonomy within a departmental relationship with France.
By then, moreover, he had shrugged off another form of centralising authority in the form of the PCF. In his Letter to Maurice Thorez (1956), he rejected Stalinism and the mechanistic downgrading of race and culture as diversions from class struggle. In 1958 he formed the Progressive Martinican party (PPM), an organisation which supported departmentalisation but demanded greater freedoms from metropolitan control. Re-elected mayor of Fort-de-France at every subsequent election and a deputy in Paris until his retirement in 1993, he was an efficient administrator and the personification of a status quo which most Martinicans found acceptable.
Despite his enduring electoral support, Césaire came under fire from both advocates of closer assimilation and supporters of independence. For the former, his demands for greater autonomy made Martinique an unjustified "special case" and threatened French goodwill. For the latter, departmentalisation had created a second-class citizenship and an artificial economy, held together only by French subsidies. President François Mitterrand's decentralisation measures in 1983 provided the PPM with some breathing space, allowing Césaire to claim that the doms would have a greater say in their development within a more regional framework of government. However, during the 1980s and 1990s advocates of independence made steady progress among a younger generation of Martinicans, accustomed to the subsidised welfare state and bored with the PPM's official line.
Césaire's literary work has also faced increasing criticism in recent years from younger Martinican writers who see négritude, with its mythic associations of primitivism, as irrelevant to a modern, non-African society. Although the republication of the Cahier in 1947 confirmed his status as a major 20th-century poet, Césaire never really achieved the same international success with subsequent work such as Soleil Cou Coupé (1947), or Ferrements (1960). His plays, dealing with historical aspects of colonialism, are little known outside France. As new Martinican writers stressed the importance of Creole as the medium for exploring the island's real culture, they derided Césaire's attachment to classical French as further evidence of his own assimilation to neo-colonial metropolitan values. The most ambiguous canonisation, meanwhile, took the form of the Cahier being included in the first-year French syllabus at Oxford University in 1996.
The contradictions at the heart of Césaire's career remained unresolved. Despite the massive importation of French consumerism into Martinique, he continued to argue that cultural autonomy could co-exist with departmentalisation. And despite the development of Martinique as a distant outpost of the EU, he persisted in looking to Africa as the source of authenticity. In his last years, he became irascible and would abruptly terminate interviews if the names of his political and literary critics were even mentioned.
Césaire's reputation as a poet rests largely on one epic expression of anti-colonial wrath and surrealist delirium; the Cahier has achieved the immortality that the French literary establishment bestows on certain works. But Césaire's legacy is perhaps more significant in the existence of a French department 7,000km away from France, whose people, for the time being at least, wish it to stay that way. His wife predeceased him; they had four sons and two daughters.
· Aimé Fernand Césaire, poet, playwright and politician, born June 26 1913; died April 17 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

in the ring

Life and Letters
Grappling with the twentieth century.
by Norman Mailer October 6, 2008-The New Yorker

From his service in the Second World War until not long before his death, last year, Mailer in his correspondence tirelessly addressed the political themes of his time. Photograph by Diane Arbus.

To Beatrice Mailer
August 8, 1945
Sweet Baby,
The news of the atom bomb has created more talk out here than the news of V-E day, and as much as President Roosevelt’s death. I feel very confused about it. (This is written after just the barest communiqué. I don’t know what it’s done.) I’m understanding now how the bonds of self-interest affect thought. A good part of me approves anything which will shorten the war, and get me home sooner, and this is often antagonistic to older more basic principles. For instance I hope the peace time draft is passed because if it’s not, there may be an agonizingly slow demobilization. In the same sense I approve of an instrument that will kill under optimum conditions many people in one instant.
But really what a terrifying perspective this is. We’ve always talked of humanity destroying itself, but now it seems so near a thing, so much a matter of decades, of a very easily counted number of bombs. This atom smashing business is going to herald the final victory of the machine. It had always been no more than pleasurable calculation in the physics I studied, a remotely attainable dream, and even then a terrible one, for the atomic energy in a mass the size of a pea is enough to drive a locomotive so many fantastic times about the earth.
I think our age is going to mark the end of such concepts as man’s will and mass determination of power. The world will be controlled by a few men, politicians and technicians—Spengler’s men of the late West-European-American civilization. Much as he stimulates me, I’m no Spenglerian. In the alternatives of doing the necessary or nothing, I prefer nothing if the necessary is unpalatable.
Really, darling, the vista is horrifying. There will be another war, if not in twenty years, then in fifty, and if half of mankind survives, then what of the next war—I believe that to survive the world cities of tomorrow will be built a mile beneath the earth. Man then will have escaped his animal heritage—the insects will no longer bother him, and Scarr-like in searching for heaven, he will have descended a thousand fathoms nearer to Hell. . . .
So little of love in this, but I am a little soul-sick tonight. The more I think about these things, the more frightening they become. What combination can beat the alloy of mechanism with sentimentality.
I need you in my arms tonight.
I love thee,

To Fanny and I. B. Mailer, Anne and David Kessler
September 4, 1945
Dear Mother & Dad, Aunt Nan & Uncle Dave,
. . . I saw an historic event or so the announcer informed me. We passed about a mile from the Missouri just as the surrender was being signed, and I got a kick out of hearing it announced over the radio as I saw it through a porthole. The commentator said, “Symbolically, the sun has come out and is shining over Tokyo Bay as the surrender is signed and peace is with us.” Maybe I couldn’t see as well as he, but the sky seemed as cloudy as ever. . . .
All my love, dears,
P.S. I weigh 145 lbs. now which is as much as I’ve ever weighed. So don’t worry about my health.

To Beatrice Mailer
February 13, 1946
Hello Schnoog,
I’ve been doing a little thinking trying to reestablish some first principles of belief for myself, political belief that is. Or really, what I was doing was figuring a political credo to follow if I could believe in the improvement of man.
First of all, it seems quite self-evident that the only really decent government would be a Marxist one, but, and it is very difficult to figure out how this can be so, the emphasis must be away from government on the individual instead of the state. If I were to go political, I could see only one procedure, and that is to form a new Communist Party having nothing to do with Russia. I hate Russia (the govt. not the people), I do not admire her as you do. Admitting that her offensiveness and organization were dictated by the pressure of the world, the fact still remains that she stands now as a strangler to freedom of the individual, and I fear she is on a totalitarian trek from which there is no retreat. This New C.P. of mine would underplay the economic, the political; you cannot found a way of life on a part of man’s whole soul, and emphasize the individual growth which is necessary. Remember my Militant Christians of Communism—it’s something on that idea. You cannot found an ethic on economics, it is far more reasonable to orient it about sex say. The Communal Govt I see would be secondary, a natural outgrowth of a time recognition of things like equality and humility and dignity and creativeness expressed. The Quakers, I think, are a good example of this—I understand they have government which is good, but it comes last, as a natural equitable political shaping of their credo. . . .
All of what I have written is bullshit, naïve bullshit. I do not believe it, for I cannot believe in anything, but if I could, that is what I would stand for. What do you say, kiddo? . . .
I love thee so much, schnoog,

To Mark Linenthal and Alice Adams
April 30, 1949
Dear Mark and Alice,
. . . Actually, I’m not in the sense of not belonging to anything at this time, for all my ideas are too much in flux, but privately, emotionally, things are painful, for I have many Communist friends who are good people, albeit intellectual snobs, and they are hurt and worried about me. But finally I have come to realize that a political position must be separated from one’s attitude toward people. (For example one should not join X Party because one likes the people in it.) This species of liberal shit and blood is something I expect you’re still both prone to, and it’s impossible for you to end with no political conclusion and no political program since every nice guy you meet in the camp-of-the-enemy undermines you. Viz: Norman Thomas. You know so many nice people who are Thomists so you think he must have something, when of course he is dreck. But then that is the depressing thing. You read politics and Partisan Review today, and there are no longer ideas in them, just canapés, and despite the brilliance of all their people and their erudition, etc. etc. they no longer think, they merely hate. Stunned, disillusioned, broken, they gravitate to a political vacuum like Thomas because it costs them nothing. Objectively they support the American war program, aid it, abet it, are at certain times the vanguard in an approach to war, and indeed when war comes I think an astonishing number of them are going to be bureaucratic intellectual wheels of the war mechanism. In the meantime, however, to keep their purity, they vote for Thomas. . . .
In re: this, I’m going to continue this obnoxious superior tone for another paragraph. I must confess Alice that I don’t think much of what you’re reading. The truth is you’re looking at peripheral works, and despite occasional brilliances, their general effect is worthless. We don’t learn chemistry by reading a book here and there about the philosophical extensions of some new discovery when we know nothing about chemistry itself. Marxism is a tool, it’s a way of looking at things, and not a series of value-judgments, and if you want to learn it (a dreary process) you’ve got to read the source books, and study them. At least, study “Capital.” If you find it uncongenial, you will at least have had the pleasure of studying a genius, and the incalculable agony. It is hard. But every day after mole-like I’ve studied my twenty pages, I feel as if I’ve come out of a shower bath.
If you find that studying economics has no appeal to you, then forget about politics, I don’t mean this snidely. There are any number of other areas of activity which are far more delightful and fruitful for people. I just intend that to dabble in politics, to risk judgments on the halfway level is a completely confusing and unproductive process, and time so spent is best distributed on other things. . . .
Love from Bea, love from me,

To Philip Allan Friedman
April 24, 1953
Dear Mr. Friedman,
I’m afraid I won’t be able to be of much help to you. I met [Sinclair] Lewis only once in the fall of 1948 at his house in Williamstown, Mass, and although I remember him very warmly, and he was in fine form that day, I doubt whether I could tell you anything which would be new.
One thing of course was his extraordinary vitality, and his child-like sense of discovering everything for himself, so that no matter what he said—be it banal or original—he delivered with great enthusiasm, and a kind of delight in the workings of his mind. For an example: at the time I was sympathetic to Stalinism, and he started scolding me with great good humor, his manner something of a cross between a kid brother and a doting uncle. “I can understand it of course,” he said, “it’s like religion. Uncle Joe Stalin is the pope for all you people. Why that’s what he is, a pope, and all those Hollywood writers, very nice people some of them by the way, who are all giving their money, giving their donations to the party, it’s like buying a mass to be said by Pope Uncle Joe,” and he laughed with enormous pleasure in the idea, as if never before had any parallel been drawn between the Church and the Communist Party. . . .
I hope this will be of some small use to you.
Norman Mailer

To Charley and Jill Devlin
April 30, 1954
Dear Charley and Jill,
. . . Did you ever read “Lie Down in Darkness,” by William Styron? It’s not a great novel, but it is one hell of a novel, and I think of all of us, he has the biggest talent, the only one say who could some day write a novel as great as Proust’s for example. Anyway, he’s in New York now, and is one hell of a great guy, and I’ve been a little bit on the writers’ circuit because [James] Jones has been in town too. Jones is something too. His great charm is a tremendous kind of animal magnetism which gives you the feeling that while you’re around him things are just going to happen, and indeed they often do. He’s a most peculiar mixture of Warden and Prewitt, very complex, very noisy, very crude, very affectionate, amazing you first with his naïveté and then with his shrewdness and insight. With it all, he putters at his writing, some days a page, some days a paragraph. As happened to me, he’s scared, and probably has tightened up, but I think I’ll be more surprised if he doesn’t write another good book than if he does.
The McCarthy hearings are being televised these days, and I catch them from time to time. If you’ve never seen McCarthy you’ll have a surprise when you do. What all his critics fail to admit is that he has enormous charm and sex appeal, and a characteristic man’s man way of talking which dominates everyone around him, so that to a person ignorant of politics, he would seem just wonderful. The result is that it’s truly terrifying to watch him work, because you wonder how can this man be stopped? Yet, on the other hand it’s possibly not as bad as it seems, for I think a lot of his support is not active enthusiasm for his ideas, methods, etc., but simply the response of ignorant people to his vast and clever charm. The hope there is that when all the showdowns come, his minions may be startled to discover the ideas behind this guy they think is so great. The hope, I believe, is that he remain a reactionary. Just let him pick up a social program, and he’ll be dictator, because as a demagogue he is really extraordinary. Even hating him, you have to admire him because he’s so good at what he does. . . .
Love to you,

To Lewis Allen
April 30, 1954
Dear Lew,
. . . James Jones has been in town for a few weeks, and we’ve been seeing a lot of him. In a funny way I feel like the middle wheel between Styron and Jonesie—as if I’m made up of one half of each of them. And life with Jonesie has been great; with that loud brawling animal quality of his which loves life so instinctively and so warmly. I begin to feel a little warmer myself. . . .
There was a party at Styron’s last night, and we all got drunk and decided to send a telegram to Joe McCarthy. So here’s how it went:DEAR JOE. WE DIG YOU, BUT GET THE BROWN OUT OF YOUR NOSE! VANCE BOURJAILY JAMES JONES NORMAN MAILER JOHN PHILLIPS WILLIAM STYRON
Despite our mirth and our drunkenness, I think deep down we were a little aghast. It’s exactly the sort of thing you go to a concentration camp for three years later. Ah, well, there are so many other reasons I can use to go. . . .
Yours, Lew,

To Jean Malaquais
October 13, 1956
Dear Jean,
. . . It’s a peculiar thing about being a radical—the years go by and lo and behold there comes a time when the phone calls don’t come in any longer from one’s more elevated social friends. I think simply that one’s become a luxury to have as a friend, and unless they care for you very much—which none of my social friends do—you just slowly are dropped from the orbits of their circulation. And then, on top of that, I was sick of New York itself, this desperately competitive inhuman city with its violence, its coldness, its electric assault on the nerves—perhaps I’m just getting middle-aged—at any rate we went up to the country in Connecticut to visit some friends, and found a house we liked very much, and we are now in the act of buying it. . . .
Anyway, that was a couple of weeks ago, and shortly after we made our offer to buy it, and were back in the city, I was out walking the dogs (our two big French poodles) late one Saturday night or scientifically speaking on early Sunday morning—it was one A.M.—when the dogs stopped to browse near three hoodlums who were hanging around a door step. Well, one of them made a nasty crack, the others laughed, and I who must have a touch of insanity asked the hoodlum what he said. Well, he then insulted me, we started a verbal contest, he told me to move on, I was scared but refused to, and finally we had a fight. Now I probably would have won this fight because believe me I was stronger than the hoodlum—he was tall but weighed less than me, and about 21 years old—as I say I believe I would have won, but he started to gouge my eyes in a clinch—and very professionally I may say. I threw him off as best I could, we fought a little more, clinched again, and again he gouged me. At that point a crowd of people—a gang—poured out of a house (we were fighting on the sidewalk) and some tremendous brute of a character clouted me, and said “Have you had it?”
Well I had had it. I could hardly see, my eyes were bleeding, and I could see myself being beaten to death. So I nodded hopelessly, muttered several times over, “Yes, I’ve had it, I’ve had it, I’ve had it,” picked up the dogs from another hoodlum who ironically had been holding them during the fight, and shambled off. What keeps the story from being completely inhuman is that two colored men, part of the gang, followed me. When I got to the corner they reached me. I was past caring at that point, and so probably for that reason had no fear. My feeling was that if they were going to jump me, I might just as well be dead. Perhaps it was that, I don’t know, but at any rate, one of the colored guys said, “You didn’t get a fair shake, man.” And that somehow cheered me when I thought about it in the next few days.
But the aftermath was poor. My left eye hurt a bit, and I had a blind spot in the middle of my vision for a few days, and had to stay in a dark room for almost a week. Even now I suffer from eyestrain, and it will probably take a month to get over that. How happy I am that I bought the house before this happened, or else I would always feel that I was fleeing New York in a panic. . . .
Love from one old warrior to another,

To Jean Malaquais
September 25, 1957
Dear Jean,
. . . Now for my Dissent piece [“The White Negro”]. I sent your letter on to [Irving] Howe, and it will be printed in the next issue. I don’t feel up to discussing it with you today, and indeed to answer you properly would take an article longer than the first and out of my means, but seriously, Dear Jean, entre nous, you are belaboring new if vastly imperfect ideas with a dead stick. When you write privately to me that I am suffering from inflation, I can only shake my head sadly and agree that you have put your finger on my worst fault—I want to be a great thinker without doing the work—I am indeed phony. But when you publicly say that the hipster is immature, irrational, unimportant, lumpen, etc. etc. etc. all of which is true, you are still ignoring the two important things in what I was trying to say which were 1) that barbarism may be the alternative not to socialism but to totalitarianism, and if this is true it is preferable to totalitarianism for the radical, or at the very least, poses a real alternative and 2) I was trying to fumble my way forward toward a theory of energy, human energy, which some genius following behind us may be able to pick up and use in order to become the new Marx. I do wish you would read the last page three or four times. The notion that society has reached a point of such complexity, such “organismishness” that it is capable instinctively of adapting itself to economic crisis by communicating psychological crisis via the mass communications is a notion which you cannot ignore, Jean, or you are no longer an inquiring Marxist but merely a scholastic. The contradictions from which America suffers are rapidly becoming psychological contradictions which are almost insupportable—if they should shift back to economic contradictions and economic depression which is far from impossible that will not mean that the process was a simple dialectic whose breath moved only through the circuits of productive relations. I suppose what I am fumbling toward is a dialectic which can bridge the material and the ideal—or put more palatably for you, I am trying to infuse material notions of energy into that philosophical country of the ideal which psychoanalysis now rules with a barbarian’s club. . . .

To Samuel E. Lessere
December 30, 1957
Dear Mr. Lessere,
Pound’s “racial hatreds” are likely to prove more embarrassing to the racists if he is on the loose than if he becomes a martyr. Frankly I don’t see the point to prison, I never have—if prison is to exist as some sort of punishment for the harm one has done to others, it seems to me that until Orval Faubus has twenty years in the can, no one can argue convincingly that Pound deserves twenty minutes.
I suppose the real reason I favor Pound’s release is that the same kind of government mentality which prosecutes, incarcerates, etc., a Pound also sets up Loyalty Boards, and what have you. Let it go, I doubt if we’ll agree on this.
Norman Mailer

To Jean Malaquais
December 30, 1957
Dear Jean,
. . . Paris at the moment seems far away. We’ve had the country, we’re bored with it, disgusted with living the unbearably contradictory life of rich squires (besides we’re not so rich any more—the sputnik having nicked the cream off my investments) and so we’re going back to New York. I’m rather depressed these days. It’s been years since anything I’ve done has turned out successfully—with a few rare exceptions—and I’m falling into the thing which afflicted you a couple of years ago—a failure of the will, shall we say. My ambitions seem far beyond my talents, and light-years beyond the vicissitudes of my character, and I think of this enormous novel I’m now starting, which could well take ten years, and if done properly, it must be unpublishable except in green-backed French “dirty” editions, and I’ll be middle-aged when it’s done, and somehow I just don’t believe in myself the way I used to, and indeed, worst of all, it doesn’t even seem terribly important. I’m beginning to have the tolerance of the defeated—people I would have despised a few years ago now seem bearable—after all, I say to myself, I haven’t done very well with all the luck I had, and perhaps I do wrong to judge them. Naturally these states proliferate. The desire to work recedes, and as it recedes one welcomes the depression of not working which increases the difficulty to begin work again, and it gets to be a drag. You know I think of these miserable years since the war and how everyone I know has been diminished by it, their rebellion tempered, their caution swollen to cowardice, their malice to hatred, until the worst of all is that I get close at times to thinking that perhaps we have overrated the possibilities of people, and then life becomes dreary indeed. Forgive the tirade. You have your depression, I have mine (I too am smoking again). . . .
Now, of course, all this is every artist’s anguish—so many of us could have been geniuses if everything had worked out right—but I had so much more good fortune than the others, and I’ve fucked it away so wastefully, Jeanbon, that I don’t even have the dignity of frustration—what poor little Russian émigrés we all are really. Forgive me for complaining to you, but it is better that I complain to an old, a dear, and a trusted friend than depend upon the doubtful kindnesses of a drunken stranger at a cocktail party.
(Apropos of nothing, this genius of an egoist read Baudelaire’s Intimate Journals—in English—a month ago. Now there’s a man, I thought, who’s exactly like me.) . . .
Love to you and to Galy,

To Irving Howe
January 9, 1959
Dear Irving,
. . . We’ve never talked about it, Irving, but I’ve felt for some years now that Marxism may take an enormous step forward in the next fifteen or twenty years because the only intellectual discipline which can comprehend the psychoanarchism of next year and ten years from now is indeed Marxism. The end of any theory of energy has to be society and the class conflict, not the orgone box, and I’d like you to understand that my eagerness for Dissent to begin a dialogue with the psycho-anarchists (wherever they are?) is not to have the magazine become by degrees a quarterly for jazz cum psychoanalysis but rather the intellectual center of a radical generation which may be coming into existence. . . .
My best,

To Jean Malaquais
April 29, 1960
Dear Jean,
. . . I joined the Fair Play for Cuba Committee on the old Leninist principle of Whom? In this case the Whom? was Time magazine. I figure if they’re against Castro, I’m for him. Anti-Stalinism may not be a political position, but anti-Luce-ism well may be, since one can never determine the facts but only what various powers wish one to believe about the facts. I find it a good working rule of thumb to look for the center of day-to-day political evil in good old Time magazine. . . .
The big theater news here is “The Balcony” by Genet done at the Circle in the Square (Off Broadway). I thought the production disappointing, however. They cut the play stupidly, I thought, and the atmosphere was much too perfumed and faggy. I think some of this is Genet’s fault; for all his brilliance he still gives me a pain in the ass.
Adele sends love.

To Fanny and I. B. Mailer
August 10, 1960
Dear Mom and Dad,
. . . Last Saturday I went down to Hyannis Port (50 miles from here) and had an interview with Jack Kennedy. We got along fairly well and he invited me back the next day, also invited Adele. We overslept and had to drive 80 miles an hour to get there on time. Barbara’s comment was that Adele and I were the only people she knew in the whole world who could oversleep for an appointment like that. . . .

To John L. Saltonstall, Jr.
October 28, 1960
Dear Mr. Saltonstall:
Senator Kennedy’s Wagnerian vision of a new American expeditionary force captained by Saint Grottlesexers and soldiered by some as yet undefined Marine Corps lumpen proletariat, for the invasion of Cuba, is insufficiently chilling to my notion of a new America a little more brave and a little more honest than the one we have sadly become accustomed to, that I do not know if I can permit my name to be used in his support without some assurance that his remarks were a perhaps forgivable mistake due to the excesses of campaigning. For all I know, Castro may now be trapped in the syndrome of the Communists, but if he is, it is a tragedy which cannot be ignored by an adventure which will prove more ugly than romantic.
Yours respectfully,
Norman Mailer

To Mrs. John F. Kennedy
November 3, 1960
Dear Mrs. Kennedy,
It was nice of you to send your letter, and I thank you for it.
Once in a while when I think of going into another century, I pick the eighteenth, France, the last three decades, and the first of the nineteenth I suppose. But I do not know if I would be very good in all of that. If, perhaps, we do get to see you in Hyannis Port next year, we might talk. I suspect you know more about the subject than me. My competence becomes inexpert once I’ve passed the works of the Marquis de Sade. There’s a man I’d like to do a biography of when I’m dead beyond repair. I might be able to throw a hint or two on the odd strong honor of the man.
In the meantime, let me wish that I am wrong in my fear of the night of November 7. I do not agree with your husband about Cuba, I think he is moving into a serious error, but I will vote for him anyway—I think it is more important than ever that he win. It is just that I have now lost much pleasure in my ballot. . . .
Yours, dear lady,
Norman Mailer

To Eiichi Yamanishi
October 23, 1961
Dear Eiichi,
. . . I’ve always felt a deep kinship with Trotsky and while I no longer could call myself in any way a Trotskyite it does not mean that I do not have a profound admiration for him. The difficulty here in America is that the conventional forms of revolutionary Marxism simply do not apply to the peculiarly intricate structure of American society. By this I do not mean that Marxism no longer applies but only that for it to become exciting again as a style of thought for the best of the young people it must be expanded by some genius who can comprehend the complexities of the American phenomena. I think in a way I was trying to point toward a possible direction in the last paragraph of “The White Negro.” You see, Eiichi, the difficulty is that the working class in America is utterly without a revolutionary consciousness and the source of whatever rebellion there is in this country comes, not from people who function within the economy, but from the growing number of young people who feel profoundly alienated from their country and its history. It is possible that something may come of all this in the next ten years, for the spirit of rebellion is genuine. It is just that none of us has the intellectual stature to conceive of the problem in a radical new way. In America it is not that surplus value is extorted from us so much as that we are spiritually exploited and denied the opportunity to find our true growth. This is no doubt the highest stage of capitalism. You can see that in a situation like this it makes little sense to think of oneself as a Trotskyite. One might as easily call oneself a Bourbon or a follower of Batko Makhno. I am certain that if Trotsky were alive and in this country he would no longer be a Trotskyite. . . .

To the Editor of Playboy
December 21, 1962
Dear Sir,
I wish you hadn’t billed the debate between William Buckley and myself as a meeting between a conservative and a liberal. I don’t care if people call me a radical, a rebel, a red, a revolutionary, an outsider, an outlaw, a Bolshevik, an anarchist, a nihilist, or even a left conservative, but please don’t ever call me a liberal.
Norman Mailer

To Mickey Knox
December 17, 1963
Dear Mickey,
The Kennedy thing hit very hard here. Women were crying in the streets (mainly good-looking women), a lot of middle-aged Negroes looked sad and very worried, and then we all sat around in gloom and watched the television set for the next seventy-two hours. Altogether it was one of three events having something profoundly in common: Pearl Harbor day and the death of Roosevelt being the other two. And the Ruby-Oswald stuff was just too much on top of it. I haven’t felt like writing a word about the whole thing, I’ve been too fucking depressed every which way. The main loss I think was a cultural one. Whether he wanted to or not Kennedy was giving a great boost to the arts, not because Jackie Kennedy was inviting Richard Wilbur to the White House, but somehow the lid was off, and now I fear it’s going to be clamped on tight again.
As for Oswald and Ruby, I don’t know what was going on, but I don’t have the confidence we’ll ever know. I’d like to believe that the F.B.I. had a sinister hand in all of this, but somehow I doubt it. I suspect the real story is that two lonely guys, all by themselves, put more grit in the gears than anyone ever succeeded in doing before, and it’s just a mess, a dull miserable mess. . . .

To Eiichi Yamanishi
April 17, 1964
Dear Eiichi,
. . . As for the debate [with William F. Buckley, Jr.], it caused some interest, but not an overwhelming amount. It lacked the incisiveness of the first debate and ended inconclusively. I was furious at myself for not having taken the time to prepare properly. As a result I was on the defensive a good deal of the time because Buckley has a knowledge of contemporary politics, names, dates, places, so forth, which one cannot match casually. A lot of people were kind enough afterward to tell me that I won. The newspapers were all on Buckley’s side. And between us two, I think I must confess that the best I obtained in the second debate was a draw. . . .
As for Trotsky, it is not that I feel antipathetic to him, indeed I think he is one of the few great figures of the twentieth century, and I’ve always felt sympathetically close to him, but the Trotsky movement in America is unspeakably arid and hidebound. Indeed one hardly hears of their existence any longer. Besides, there are political phenomena in America which Marx could never have contemplated, for the continued survival of capitalism displaced the economic imbalance into a psychic imbalance which corrupts the very being of people’s lives here. Indeed, it is almost profitable to conceive of America as one vast horde of psychic totalitarians ruled by an establishment which is exceptionally self-contradictory; for while on the one hand it pushes America toward totalitarianism, there are elements in the establishment which offer our greatest defense against the continuing totalitarianization of the masses. Kennedy, for all his contradictions, was probably a defense of that sort, whereas Johnson, who has almost virtually the same political program, encourages the drift toward totalitarianism by the vacuity of his personality. The key to the entire situation is the Negro revolution, I believe. If it fails, and it most certainly can, even via the route of the next Presidential election, then the legal counter-revolution is, I fear, in the making. America is like a sullen attic full of smoldering dull heats. We can go on like this for years, but then again the fire can break out in six months. For we are in a profound crisis psychologically, since the country as it sees itself was founded and prospered on ideas of faith and reason, and faith has now become shattered or authoritarian, or the average American has lost his confidence in reason. The assassination of Kennedy did untold harms. The assassination of Oswald multiplied the disaster many times again. . . .

To Arnold Kemp
December 18, 1964
Dear Arnold,
. . . You know, when Sartre won the Nobel Prize, it’s funny, but we have a different attitude. I think he should have taken it, and the reason I think is that it bugs the bourgeoisie more when people who are against them accept their biggest prizes rather than refuse them. For example, all these years Life magazine has been calling Jean-Paul Sartre an “apostle of despair.” Now all of a sudden, apostle of despair and Nobel Prize winner. That makes it harder for them to bullshit people. I believe in taking honors because if you use them properly they are you. Some day if there were something really big going on and one wanted to write a letter to the New York Times, a mean stinging letter, and get it printed, there’d be just that much more leverage. . . .

To Eiichi Yamanishi
December 21, 1964
Dear Eiichi,
. . . I’m glad you liked the piece on the Republican Convention [“In the Red Light,” in Esquire]. For some reason, I think mainly because Goldwater is so hated here, the piece was enormously well received. As I wrote to someone earlier today, it inspired more favorable comment than anything I’ve done since “The Naked and the Dead.” I asked myself what I could have done wrong that it is so popular. Actually, what no one understands is that it is easy to write political pieces once one has had the good fortune to read “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon” at an early age. Anyway, there is talk here now of publishing it as a book. If that is done, I will restore its original title: “Cannibals and Christians, A History of the Republican Convention of 1964.” Esquire was so afraid of a libel suit from the people of the Republican party that they refused to use that title, which was of course annoying for me, because it meant that once again I would have to sever relations with Esquire and I had enjoyed working with them up to that point. However, those decisions are not negotiable. I’m afraid I can’t write for them again until they agree that I have absolute right to have my own title. . . .

To William F. Buckley, Jr.
April 20, 1965
Dear Bill,
What a marvelous girl Joan Didion must be. I think that’s one conservative I would like to meet. And who would ever have thought that the nicest piece [review of “An American Dream”] I am to read about myself four weeks after publication should come in the National Review. Well, this is the year of literary wonders. What do you think the odds would have been for a parlay of good reviews in National Review, Life, the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Paul Pickrel at Harper’s, and the Chicago Tribune. One hundred fifty million to one, or would we have picked it by light-years?
Anyway, I write you this letter in great envy. I think you are going finally to displace me as the most hated man in American life. And of course that position is bearable only if one is number one. To be the second most hated man in the picture will probably prove to be a little like working behind a mule for years, which brings me to your address before the police department’s Holy Name Society. I missed all of it at the time; I was in Alaska, and got my first inkling in the New York Post that some sort of bomb had gone off. At any rate I was not surprised when I read your speech today to find that it was literate, moderate in relation to your own position, and felicitously phrased. And of course I don’t agree with your fundamental premise. On that I think you’re all wrong. I’m not the cop-hater I’m reputed to be, and in fact police fascinate me. But this is because I think their natures are very complex, not simple at all, and what I would object to in your speech if we were debating is that you made a one-for-one correspondence between the need to maintain law and order and the nature of the men who would maintain it. The policeman has I think an extraordinarily tortured psyche. He is perhaps more tortured than the criminal, and so as you can see I can hardly concur with the valuations you put on these matters. At the same time there’s no doubt in my mind that the newspapers misquoted you shamefully and the net result of that is to deepen one’s sense of an oncoming disaster; for I think humanly it could only drive you further into some of your own most charming surrealisms, such as bombing China’s atomic plants. Truly you amaze me, Bill. Did it ever occur to you as a good Christian that it is immoral to destroy somebody else’s property?
But listen, I think our public debating days are probably over—for a time at least. As wrestlers we are not both villains, and that excites no proper passions. Still, it may open something interesting—which is that the two of us have a long careful private discussion one night, because I think in all modesty there’s much in your thought which is innocent of its own implications, and there’s much surplus in mine which could profitably be sliced away by the powers of your logic. . . .
Incorrigibly yours,

To William F. Buckley, Jr.
October 18, 1965
Dear Bill-elect,
What the hell does emunctory mean? You have here gone too far, sir, even for Buckley. I even heard one Roman turn over distinctly in his grave as the word went by and whisper to his neighbor, “Does that ‘emunctory’ come from the Greek?” Anyway, you’re just an old fraud. You offered to pay a week’s wages not to have to hear anyone who talks more predictable nonsense on the subject of foreign policy than myself. Sailor Bill, I come close to loving you here. When the hell did you ever earn a week’s wages, you bleeding plutocrat. Of course if you were really indicating you were ready to give up one-fifty-second of your yearly income, then I will go look for such an intellectual and split the swag with him. . . .
Last, how is Patsy’s leg? I hope it’s back to everything original. Please give her my love, and let me know about dinner. We still have one to offer you. I expect you’ll find it easier after the election, but if you think we can plan anything before, fine, and fine again.

To William F. Buckley, Jr.
January, 1966
Dear Bill,
I send you the enclosed not because I love National Review so much, for I don’t—it’s not so good as it ought to be, and often it’s tiresome, especially when one knows in advance what your trusted old line contributors are going to say—but as a personal mark of respect to you. Your letter was the best letter I ever read by an editor asking for funds. . . .
One request. Please keep my contribution in the secret crypts. It is not that I fear public opinion so much as ceaseless repetition. Repetition kills the soul and I would not wish to spend one hundred evenings in succession explaining to various outraged and somewhat stupid people in calm clear fashion my complex motives for giving a gift to a magazine for which I feel no affection and to an editor with whom on ninety of a hundred points I must rush to disagree. They would not understand that good writing is good writing, and occasionally carries the day.

To Diana Trilling
June, 1966
Dear Diana,
. . . You ask in effect if we, as friends, have any real sense of one another; if I address you as the real Diana Trilling, and whether by extension you address the real Norman Mailer, and I get so angered when I read this that I decide you probably are the great conservative, because who indeed outside of English dons and Diana Trilling still think of people as residing in the real. When I talk to you, I talk to you naturally with a firm “idea” of who you are, but since every mother’s son and mother alive is in part a scientist, or at least a rational philosopher, a sensitive part of my brain is presumably reacting to the idea and seeing where it is wrong and where perhaps it is right. But even this is to pay too much service to your notion. I don’t make friends with people because they satisfy my idea of them. I am friends with people because they make me feel good when I talk to them and since everything on earth is extraordinarily limited I often don’t want even to have too good an idea of them. I don’t want to have too much of a hypothesis to be proved or disproved—rather there’s an animal pleasure in friends. One feels a little safer or a little merrier, one shores up a small bulkhead against the large dread that always waits outside the doors so if we’re friends it’s not because we necessarily have a good idea of what the implications of the other’s thoughts might be, but because we are simpatico. Because in a funny way we are family, as opposed to the other sorts of friends who start as associates. For that reason I think it is no accident that we’ve never had a serious political conversation. Each of us is all too aware that it might be harder to remain friends afterward. Yet I see no inconsistency in this. Your ideas would have a negative importance to me if I did not believe in your good will and good conscience, just as my ideas would be finally intolerable to you if you did not believe in my essential good intent. What I think it comes down to is that our experiences have been so different that ultimate ideas are much at odds, but to me this is far less important than the fact that we have a friendship. That is what is real. I’ve never for a moment considered whether I’m talking to the real Diana Trilling, because I know damn well I am, you damn adolescent, and the way I know is that I have the clearest impression of not knowing who I’m talking to when I’m with someone that I don’t know, which is to say, that I don’t feel comfortable with. Besides, I feel your ideas and my ideas are going to become more and more unimportant. There’s something going on which I don’t think I understand anymore, and I used to have a confidence that I understood the times better than anyone, but now I just don’t know. These McLuhans, these Pynchons and Jeremy Larners and this love of electronics and plastic and folk/rock make me feel like Plekhanov’s scolding of the Soviets in 1917. Sometimes I think we’re at the tail end of something which soon may be gone forever, so that in 50 years, for instance, there may not be anyone alive who’s read all of “Remembrance of Things Past.” See how gloomy I am. Why indeed should I give a damn what my friends’ ideas are—indeed let them cherish them for a while, they don’t matter any more than my own ideas. What I do know is that the majority of people among whom you spent your intellectual life, and they are the Communists of the ’40s who form up a large part of this, had an aridity of invention and sterility of emotion which had everything to do with preparing the ground for the extraordinary nihilism which is now near upon us, because with rare exceptions, and Lionel would be one of the very rare ones, they offered no fertile continuations of Western thought—their best and final tool was a savage, even cannibalistic malice. . . .
Love for now,

To Jean Malaquais
July 9, 1967
Dear Jean,
. . . I have a general theory the act was committed by a petty conspirator or conspirators & Oswald was at least associated with it. He was also, I would hypothesize, a petty agent for more than one American secret police—let us say CIA & FBI, and also a petty agent for one or two other countries. So the history of the Warren Commission proceedings is the history of a series of attempts to conceal, by multitudinous layers of meaningless evidence, the simple contradictions attaching to the embarrassments of the various secret policemen when lo and behold one of their boys seemed to be at the gun. Plus other waves and layers of distorted evidence, Dallas police, Jack Ruby, etc. . . .

To Marvin Gorson
April 11, 1968
Dear Marvin,
. . . I don’t think I’ll take up your kind invitation to become the philosopher-in-residence for the Peace and Freedom Party for two of the best reasons possible. I can’t quite think my way clear to a coherent political position. As you may or may not know I’m a left-conservative, which involves such contradictions as being against urban renewal, but on the other hand not necessarily being for legalization of marijuana. I may have to come out for legalization of marijuana. I may have to come out for legalization if the police keep harassing people and arresting them unnecessarily, but with all that I prefer it to be illegal for it gives a touch of spice to the smoking and saves us from the corporation being able to put vitamins in the hydroponically grown and hybrid hyped marijuana with filters. Not to mention all the psychedelic commercials we’ll be spared. Also I’m not so sure that McCarthy and Kennedy are indistinguishable from Humphrey, who if nothing else ought to pay for his total commitment to the war in Vietnam. It’s all very well to say that there’s no difference between Kennedy and Johnson, but I’m not at all sure I agree. It doesn’t matter so much what goes on in Kennedy’s head, as that you’ll have a totally different country if a man who wears his hair the way he does becomes our President. . . .

To Allen Ginsberg
December 9, 1969
Dear Allen,
. . . This is just to say love to your manse and three cheers for the organic farming.
Yours sincerely,

P.S. People keep asking me to do pieces on what I think the ’70s will be like. Do you know I don’t have the remotest idea. We were sure of what would happen in the ’60s and we weren’t far from wrong. The ’70s are just a fearful blank to me. I hope it’s age rather than presentiments. Merry Christmas dear poet.

To Eiichi Yamanishi
December 5, 1975
Dear Eiichi,
. . . Our political situation here is curiously flat. There’s no great excitement anywhere and there seems in manners and mores and morals to be a return to the center. More and more young radicals I used to know, who saw sex, for example, as a completely rational activity to be pursued for one’s own pleasure, are now turning in the other direction and speak wistfully of finding a mate with whom they can suffer and die. The one thing one seems able to depend upon in American life is that the pendulum will operate. I must say that I’ve always been particularly sensitive to the pendulum, since I always seem to be swinging in the opposite direction from it.
As for city politics, Ford acted in disgusting fashion over the troubles of New York, and carried on as if there were something personally corrupt and deficient in the soul of New Yorkers themselves. When one puts his remarks against the unspeakable waste of the war in Vietnam, the various debauches of the oil fields, the absolute dissipation of energy in every endeavor of American and corporate and international financial life, one’s old sense of anger comes back again. I’ve had the grim and funny satisfaction of having people stop me on the street in New York from time to time now and say to me, “I wish I’d voted for you six years ago. You are a prophet.” To which I always laugh and say, “Listen, if I had been elected you’d be blaming me now for all this trouble.” No, my life is simple, I do not have political ambition, I have only one, which is to get to that novel. . . .

To Mary Bancroft
October 18, 1976
Dear Mary,
. . . I find it hard to burn with your passion about Carter, for I have only to think of Ford or, God save my ass, Reagan, and wonder how a self-respecting conservative like you can get it up one more time to put the dipper in the bile pot. Yes, I think Carter is ambiguous as hell and yes he could be the devil and yes he could sure have taken me in and yes the Democrats will take us to war before the Republicans and yes it could be the biggest mistake I’ve ever made, but all I could tell you is I’ve learned over the years to get simpler and simpler. I decided it’s finally no accident if I walk away liking somebody or not liking them. Rather, everything that’s happened to me in my purchase on fifty-three years is in the judgment. And I walked away from Carter and I really liked him, he stayed with me in a good glow. Not many people do that to me. Since that part is incontestable for me, I have to recognize that if he is the devil, then so am I, and it was that good glow of fellowship devils feel when they encounter one another in high and secret places. But as for Ford, Reagan, Dole and the rest of that pirate ship—Mary, they’re puke. They’re hideous. Don’t you know what they’ve done to this country? Johnson was a tragic monstrosity and he got us into Vietnam ten times as much as Kennedy—I’ll grant you that. But what Nixon did in not getting us out for four long years is unspeakable, and what Ford and Reagan do in terms of the economy that is run by the guys who roll around in the golf cart, oh the corruption, oh the ooze, oh I miss you. Oh god I miss you. Mary, why do I never visit? . . .

To Richard Stratton
Early January, 1987
Dear Rick,
. . . Norris and I were invited to Moscow for that conference Gorbachev called. Rick, I tell you, it’s incredible: there is something happening over there. It’s as a bear, old, smelly, wounded all over the place, obese, matted in his own corruptions, and there’s a look in the bear’s eye: he wants to go back to the circus, he wants to be a trained bear and receive applause, and be honored by all the other animals. This is too fancy a way to put it, but in fact, I guess I’ve been brooding about Russia ever since “The Naked and the Dead” came out, because I went through the experience of so many in my generation, of thinking the Russians were great during the World War and respecting their army and their infantry as only an American infantryman could, and their war sacrifices, and then being plunged into the Cold War and all the signals being reversed. I didn’t trust anyone after that, including the Russians when I got to Lenin about Stalinism and the real horrors that are there. There is one difference between Russians and Americans that is crucial: in America we keep running ahead of our guilt. We stay ahead of it by technique, by every trendy step. We’re analyzed, tranquilized, and roboticized, nouvelle cuisine-ized, yuppified, we stay ahead of our anxiety and our great guilt and are able to avoid the issue. The Russians aren’t. They’re marooned in their guilt and there are very few Russians who don’t have a bad conscience because the history of that place for 30 years required one to turn on friends, not overly perhaps, but through acts of omission, not helping friends who run afoul of the authorities. And authority itself kept stalling in its own huge bad conscience. The Russians, I think, live closer to their souls than we do because they’re guilty, and I can’t tell you how moving it is that out of the top bureaucracy itself has come this recognition that they’ve got to change and have a more human government. Rick, I tell you, if I were the kind of guy to pray, I think I’d even ask for good will from above so that unbelievable thing that Gorbachev is attempting in Russia, and brother, I feel for him. It could go wrong so easily, but if it goes right, this country, our country, America is going to have to cut out so much of its own bullshit and come face to face with the idea, if Communism becomes democratic, that our own stables are overflowing. And our horseshit is reaching our nostrils. Well let’s see.
Three cheers,

To Don DeLillo
August 25, 1988
Dear Don,
What a terrific book [“Libra”]. I have to tell you that I read it against the grain. I’ve got an awfully long novel going on the CIA, and of course it overlapped just enough that I kept saying, “this son of a bitch is playing my music,” but I was impressed, damned impressed, which I very rarely am. I think we keep ourselves writing by allowing the core of our vanity never to be scratched if we can help it, but I didn’t get away scot-free this time. Wonderful virtuoso stuff all over the place, and, what is more, I think you’re fulfilling the task we’ve just about all forgotten, which is that we’re here to change the American obsessions—those black holes in space—into mantras that we can live with. What you’ve given us is a comprehensible, believable, vision of what Oswald was like, and what Ruby was like, one that could conceivably have happened. Whether history will find you more wrong than right is hardly to the point: what counts is that you brought life back to a place in our imagination that has been surviving all these years like scorched earth, that is, just about. It’s so rare when novel writing offers us this deep purpose and I swear, Don, I salute you for it.
Norman Mailer

To Florence Bonanno
December 4, 1996
Dear Florence,
. . . I, too, like Dole but I ended up voting for Clinton mainly because I think if anyone can close the gap between black and white in America, Clinton has that possibility. Black people do trust him. He has a certain regard for them; I think it’s the nicest part of his character.
Dole I like personally and, of course, we’re the same age so I identified with his troubles. But, Florence, you know, he just never came to grips with any real problems. He kept saying the same things over and over, really. The fact of the matter . . . for me, is that the Republican Party is profoundly divided between those who believe in family values like yourself, I expect, and those who believe in a free market. And the two are absolutely divided. You could fit the Democratic Party between them. So I expect that Dole in trying to bring the two halves of the Party together just didn’t dare to say anything too revealing of the huge split that exists and so he got less and less interesting in what he had to say. And that’s not good for a President. If Nader had been on the ticket up in Massachusetts, I think I would have voted for him. . . .

To Sal Cetrano
March 28, 1999
Dear Sal,
. . . While the Democrats, and Clinton first, disgust me with what I call their “boutique politics”—a little bit here, a little bit there, and served with loads of bullshit slathered over it—the Republicans are a psychotic monstrosity. On the one hand, they’re God, flag, and family—although few of them would know Jesus Christ if he were standing at the next urinal pissing along with them—and an astonishing number never served in the armed forces nor heard a bullet, and being politicians, they cheat like jackrabbits on their wives and families. But all right, what’s the use of being a politician if you can’t make a living at being a hypocrite? The point is: the Republican Party is schizophrenic: on the one hand, they are, as I say, for God, flag and family, but on the other, they are for the unbridled expansion of capitalism, and thereby leave out something that might still be important to you which is that Jesus, like Karl Marx, thought money leaches out all other values. Indeed, it does. If the whole country is going to pot, and it certainly is, I think you could graph the decline not only in morals, but in a sense of social éclat and social standards—I think you could plot the decline right next to the rise of the Dow Jones—the higher the Dow, the lower the standards. Money destroys all other values. I can even respect the right wing Republicans for holding to a few standards, as they do, but they never take on capitalism which, unbridled, is the worst scourge of human value that we have right now. There may have been a time when Communism was a worse scourge, but now we’re the leaders, and I suggest you consider living with the notion that the party of your choice is paralyzed in its moral centers. . . .
Cheers, old buddy,

To the Editor of the Boston Globe
March 13, 2002
George F. Will writes (Boston Globe, March 12): “Bush’s terseness is Ernest Hemingway seasoned with John Wesley.”
Well, one is hardly familiar with John Wesley’s sermons, but I do know that to put George W. Bush’s prose next to Hemingway’s is equal to saying that Jackie Susann is right up there with Jane Austen. Did a sense of shame ever reside in our Republican toadies? You can’t stop people who are never embarrassed by themselves. George Will’s readiness to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse can be cited as world-class sycophancy. . . .
Norman Mailer

To Sal Cetrano
June 17, 2003
Dear Sal,
. . . Even if you’re a deep-dyed conservative, and Republican, please disabuse yourself of the idea that Bush is a good guy. Please, Sal. It seems to me the best argument you can present is that he’s a total, shallow, manipulative shit, but that he’s got the luck of the devil working for him and so his policy may not end up a total disaster. . . .

To Emmerich Kusztrich
January 26, 2005
Dear Imre,
It was so thoughtful of you to send me the piece on arthritis of the knees. I find that as time goes by I am able to live more and more easily with the condition. Two canes—and I’m not merely being cute—are kind of fun once you learn some of their dimensions. The key pleasure is that you can have the illusion that you are going in for cross country skiing and poling along and that is great fun. Moreover, you never have to stand for long; there is always somebody offering you their seat.
Sans façons, I hope to get back to Germany sometime in the next year and look forward to visiting with you and Gertrude again and we can talk about the operation at that point. I don’t feel in deep need of it at this hour, but these things change from time to time. It will be one of a hundred things we can talk about. I read the clipping you sent me from the Financial Times and it is grim. I don’t know where we are all heading. This is the first century that weighs upon us like an incubus. In the twentieth century it was the terror that we would all be blown up by nuclear war. But it seems surrealistic. Now, in the twenty-first, this heavy notion is present among so many that we may or may not reach the end of this century in something like our present condition. At my age it makes so little difference, but I do have nine children and a number of grandchildren and the prospect is hardly full of joy for them.
Forgive me for this visit to world doom. I got carried away, I fear. But I also want to say what I’ve said before; we hardly know each other and yet we feel like good friends. That is a most agreeable condition. Cheers, to you and Gertrude, and dare I say it?—a little love.
Norman ♦